Infravision variant for 5th edition D&D

Back in the day (at least the day when 3rd edition premiered) one of the many many major changes was the switch of infravision to darkvision.

In general, this was a welcome change.  The old-school infravision has more cons than pros compared to darkvision.

pros of infravision

Flavor.  Anybody who has read the Drizzt books knows that Salvatore did a fantastic job using infravision descriptively, as well as including the use of infravision into everyday drow society.

cons of infravision

That same flavor started way too many arguments about what somebody could see and not see.  Could you see the footprints from somebody that walked by 20 minutes ago.  Modern thermal imaging can do that, so why not infravision?  Could you even see the walls of a deep cold cavern, where the very air and walls were the same temperature?  Again, modern thermal imaging has a problem here.

As a result, old school infravision created more problems than it solved on what was an element of almost every game starting from level 1.  Darkvision just hand-waved it, took away the science, and said “you can see in the dark”.  This was good for ease of play, but darkvision is flavorless.

Darkvision variant

I propose a variant on Darkvision that has the old-school flavor, but the table-cost of new-school darkvision.

Darkvision still works like the rules says they do.  However, it also includes an inferior version of the previous infravision.  This infravision is only able to see major differences in temperature.  If you need a guideline, it needs to be a differential of 30 degrees fahrenheit, and it needs to be strong (the heat left by a foot print on a cold rock will last but a few seconds in this infravision).   When all else fails, remember that this variant is for flavor, not tricksy stuff like seeing footprints.  This isn’t science-infravision, it is magic-infravision.

However, you can describe the scenes from the Drizzt books at the table.  Narbondel can still tell time.  As a DM, you can use this as a tool to add description,

  • Describe extreme temperatures from a distance that would normally not be perceived.  The steam from a volcanic vent, the frigid block of ice, the beating heart of a red dragon.
  • Give a splash of color when a delver is using only darkvision.  Describe the goblin sentry as “a bright blotch of heat, perhaps a small humanoid, but with long pointy ears”.
  • Give the negative space (lack of creatures/heat) emphasis with the normal black and white of darkvision.  “The chamber is festooned with stalagmites and stalactites, all a dull grey in your darkvision that seems to blend together”.



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